Critics of the Scottish Help to Buy scheme have called for the policy to be scrapped after an investigation revealed just three high volume housebuilders have received around £189 million in subsidised mortgages between them.
Freedom of information (FOI) data obtained by investigatory journalism platform The Ferret has shown that Persimmon Homes, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt have been the largest beneficiaries of Help to Buy since its inception, selling thousands of homes and building nearly half of the homes under the scheme.
The Help to Buy (Scotland) scheme allows people to purchase a new-build home without the need for a large deposit. It enables the Scottish Government to subsidise the cost of home-buyers’ mortgages with prospective buyers getting up to 15% of the purchase price of a new home.
According to The Ferret, York-based Persimmon Homes has benefited most from the scheme. It has sold 2,308 homes via Help to Buy – accounting for nearly one fifth of all the homes sold through the Scottish programme.
Based on the average equity stake per home provided by the Scottish Government, The Ferret estimates that the Scottish Government has put around £77.4m into the purchase of Persimmon built homes.
London-based Taylor Wimpey has received an estimated £57m worth of mortgage support, while BDW Trading, which is part of Leicester-based Barratt Homes, has benefited from around £54.8m worth of subsidised loans.
In early 2016, the Scottish Government announced it would ring-fence one third of its Help to Buy funding for smaller developers.
But the figures show that in the 2016 – 2017 financial year, Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barrat built 52% of the homes supported by the scheme. So far in the current financial year, these three firms have accounted for 50% of the 1,264 homes which received Scottish Government subsidy.
Green MSP Andy Wightman, who also chairs the cross-party group on housing at the Scottish Parliament, urged the Scottish Government to end the scheme in the next budget, claiming it makes housing more expensive for everyone else by pushing up prices generally and does little to benefit those on low incomes.
He told The Ferret: “For too long now, boosting profits for senior management and shareholders has taken precedent over delivering homes that can properly be called affordable. Housing policy should focus on the supply side rather than demand.”
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said that the money would be better spent on supporting affordable housing for social rent.
“Help to Buy is not the right way of addressing the housing crisis. It adds public money into the market rather than lowering prices for everyone,” he added.
Directing resources to increasing the supply of affordable housing for social rent, he argued, “would reduce the threat of homelessness to many people who are currently struggling to keep a roof over the heads due to a combination of high rent, stagnant wages and welfare reform”.
Nicola Barclay, chief executive of Homes for Scotland, emphasised to The Ferret that taxpayers were likely to get their money back over the long term, and could even profit, provided house prices rise, as the loans were repaid.
She said: “With housing completions still 36% down on pre-recession levels, Help to Buy has played a hugely important role in sustaining the construction of new homes, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and contributing £1bn in Gross Value Added to the wider economy since launch.”
Housing minister Kevin Stewart said that the Scottish Government was investing £3bn in building 50,000 affordable homes and that the Help To Buy scheme was in addition to this.
He told The Ferret: “We are committed to help struggling buyers purchase their own home through our shared equity schemes.
“Over 10,000 households have benefited from our Help to Buy programme since its introduction – two thirds of these were first time buyers and three quarters were aged 35 or under. The evidence also shows the scheme has had success in helping people move from social housing and from waiting lists into sustainable home ownership.
“Shared equity support is provided directly to buyers and builders receive no support from the Scottish Government. Help to Buy is led by demand from buyers and the Scottish Government has no control over the number of developments made available by each builder or where these developments are located.”
Responding to the report, the Common Weal think-tank has went further and challenged the Scottish Government to “answer a number of questions about its closeness to the property developer lobby in Scotland”.
Other revelations in The Ferret included evidence that the Scottish Government has asked industry representatives to come up with evidence that will justify continuing the subsidy scheme.
The FoI’s also show that Homes for Scotland (HfS) rejected the idea of a small developers fund to replace the current Help to Buy scheme.
Commenting on the findings, Common Weal head of policy, Ben Wray, stated: “These revelations open up serious questions about just how closely the Scottish Government and the property developer lobby are when it comes to designing housing policy.
“It’s perfectly reasonable that Homes for Scotland is listened to, but the Scottish Government appear to be reliant on the lobbyist for evidence to justify policy which its most wealthy members benefit from directly. The fact that HfS are direct partners in devising the new build-to-rent subsidy raises further alarm bells about the closeness of this relationship.
“The Ferret FoI revelations also show that HfS has specifically rejected a small housebuilder fund to replace the current help-to-buy, which the evidence shows is a cash cow for a few big corporate developers. HfS do not represent all opinion on housebuilding and all housebuilders in Scotland, and the Scottish Government would do well to remember this.
“Common Weal will be watching the Budget closely next week to see if subsidies for big corporate property developers are maintained, or if full funding commitment is put into building public rental housing.”
Nicola Barclay has since taken to Twitter to clarify that Homes for Scotland represents all developers and “supports an all tenure approach to give everyone the chance of a home”.